Ranjan Jotshi, an employee of Jammu & Kashmir government’s social welfare department, was on an official visit to Hapatnaar, a village in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, in mid-December 2018.
Since 2010, Jotshi’s work sees him visiting some 60-70 villages in a month. He also regularly meets victims of militancy, widows, and orphans. However, he heard about something very different, and shocking, in Hapatnaar – an entire family slowly starving to death under a roof made of rusted tin sheets.
The family consisted of 78-year-old Mouzudin Bhat, his 68-year-old wife Raja Begum, their daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.
Jotshi was well aware that there were many poor in Kashmir of course. But he had never heard of anyone suffering from near-fatal starvation before. So he rushed over.
“I visited them. The family’s condition was very pitiful. The children had not eaten food for the last three or four days. Mouzudin Bhat, the only male member of the family and a senior citizen, was disabled after breaking his right leg in a fall at a building site eight years ago. I’ve seen poverty in Kashmir before, but this is the first time I had seen people in this condition,” says Jotshi, in an exclusive conversation with The Better India.
Six months prior, Mouzudin’s son Fayaz Ahmad, who worked as a manual labourer, was detained by the police in Jammu on charges of illegal drug trafficking, leaving the family without a source of income. As a consequence, their daughter-in-law and grandchildren moved in with them.
Making matters worse, it was peak winter in the Valley at the time, and the entire village was buried under two to three feet of snow.
“Both Mouzudin and his wife were already covered under our department’s monthly assistance of Rs 1,000. However, that sum isn’t enough to survive in their condition. The rest of the village is also quite poor with very limited income. Most of them don’t even own their own land, or are manual labourers,” adds Jotshi.
Upon seeing their condition, which brought tears to his eyes, Jotshi felt he had to do something.
“With whatever money I had at the time, I brought some bread, milk, vegetables, edible oil, atta and pulses, among other essentials,” he says.
He also shot a 20-second clip of the terrible conditions under which the family was residing.
“I had no intention to shoot a video of the family. Initially, I had just shot the video to keep reminding myself that I could help this family further. Maybe I could reach out to the department and get a scholarship for the kids, include the daughter-in-law in the social welfare scheme,” adds Jotshi.
When Jotshi made his way back to his transit camp in Mattan, Anantnag district, after visiting the family, he couldn’t stop thinking about the family’s plight.
With assistance from fellow officials at the transit camp, he collected more essential provisions and went back to Hapatnaar to deliver them, braving the harsh winter.
Jotshi, a Kashmiri Pandit originally from Bijbehara in South Kashmir, was also risking his life in the militancy-torn sector.
“The only reason I can work in these parts is because of local support. The government can’t offer round the clock security to every government employee,” says Jotshi when asked about the danger.
“This is my duty and social responsibility to help such persons in their time of need. This is what we try to do—build bridges,” he adds.
Meanwhile, his friends suggested he post his video on Facebook – seeking help for the family alongside Mouzudin’s bank account details.
“The response I got from Facebook was tremendous. Within hours, I was getting calls from Mumbai, Delhi and even abroad. They called me asking how they could help. My response was ‘just deposit some money into Mouzudin’s account’. Almost Rs 17 lakh was deposited in just four days. People from across the Valley contributed eatables and goods (blankets, quilts, winter bedding, matting, etc.) worth Rs 3 lakh. Many even travelled to Hapatnaar to help the family. I personally contributed Rs 35,000 from my account,” he says.
Jotshi had never expected the response. His initial expectation was that the family would receive around Rs 30-40,000. “This was way beyond my expectations,” informs Jotshi.
“We must take whatever measures possible to help persons in dire need irrespective of religion, caste, creed and colour. If possible, we must cut down on our lavish expenses, and support such people in whatever capacity. It can be a donation or material assistance worth any amount,” adds Jotshi.
Meanwhile, Mouzudin’s family is reportedly thankful for his efforts and those who donated their money to them. “I am deeply thankful to the Pandits,” says Raja Begum, in a conversation with The Wire.
“I don’t know who and how many people put money in my husband’s bank account. All I can say is humanity exists in our Kashmir. It exists.” Raja Begum added.
On the night of January 28, Mouzudin passed away due to a heart attack. The donated money has been equally distributed to all members of the family.
Days after his death, his son Fayaz was released from prison and now lives with his mother. Thanks to Jotshi and the contributions of many others, this family is able to live with some semblance of comfort today.
Such is the power of humanity.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)
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